What are plyometrics?
Plyometrics is exercise that rapidly and repeatedly stretches and contracts muscles in order to develop explosive muscle power. Also known as jump training, it is considered a form of calisthenics and is used by athletes and exercisers who want to increase their agility, strength, speed, and endurance. It is especially useful for training athletes in sports that require jumping, dodging, and charging activities, such as basketball, volleyball, and tennis.
Once the domain of professional athletes, plyometrics has become popular among student athletes, weekend warriors, and fitness advocates who want to improve their performance and get results beyond other drill training. While research has shown many benefits from performing this type of strength training, it is not without risk. It causes great stress on the joints and needs to be done correctly and under supervision.
Coaches began using plyometric exercises in Eastern European countries during the 1920s to train track-and-field athletes. In the 1960s, Yuri Verkhoshansky, a Russian track-and-field coach, researched the movements of running and jumping and designed a training method to increase the speed and explosiveness of track-and-field athletes. He called his training method, which emphasizes the depth jump, the "shock method." In this exercise, an athlete drops from a great height. The impact upon landing creates a shock, or force, that causes the muscles to rapidly contract and then extend, giving the athlete the explosive burst of power to make a powerful jump. Verkhoshansky expanded his shock method training to other sports, such as volleyball, and found that it increased these athletes’ maximal strength as well. The shock method quickly gained popularity and was adopted by coaches throughout Eastern Europe.
In the 1970s, Verkhoshansky’s training method came to the attention of Western athletes and training coaches as Eastern European athletes earned Olympic medals in track-and-field events, gymnastics, and other sports. Fred Witt, a US Olympic coach, coined the term "plyometrics" to describe this training method and introduced jump training to US trainers and coaches. Like their Russian counterparts, American coaches who incorporated jumping exercises into athletes’ training programs noted improvements in strength and endurance.
Over time, plyometrics came to be defined as any training method that incorporated jumping exercises and other workouts that cause the muscles to rapidly lengthen and shorten. Verkhoshansky’s shock method is still used by a small number of professional athletes, but it is less common than other types of plyometrics due to the extreme intensity and training required.
Plyometric movements are a part of everyday life. Examples include jumping, leaping, hopping, skipping, running, and throwing. Plyometric drills focus on these and other movements that cause the muscles to quickly stretch and then contract. The faster the muscle expands, the faster it contracts, which strengthens the muscle and allows it to develop explosive power. Plyometrics emphasizes exercises that teach the muscles to react quickly and train the neuromuscular system to respond in a certain way.
A person can engage in plyometric workouts to train for a specific sport; to develop a specific skill or combination of skills, such as speed or push-pull power; or to improve overall strength and fitness. Plyometric drills are progressive, and users should move gradually from low-intensity activities to more intense ones. Not only is it helpful to master a skill before performing a more advanced one, but for many exercises, the muscles need to develop full strength in order to complete them properly.
Different sets of exercises are used to develop lower body and upper body explosiveness as well as sports-specific skills. For example, a soccer player is likely to engage in exercises such as jumping over cones and skipping to develop the ability to quickly change direction. A golfer, in contrast, would benefit more from activities such as a lunging rotating pass that develop explosive power in hip and trunk rotation.
Plyometric exercises are categorized into five groups based on the skill focus: speed, jump, push-pull power, rotational power, and change of direction.
Speed is a necessary part of many sports, while straight-ahead explosive speed is especially beneficial to skiers and hockey players. Standing broad jumps, depth jumps, and box jumps help to develop this kind of speed.
Jumping is crucial for volleyball and basketball players. Exercises that help to develop explosive jumping skills include wood chops, hopping over cones, and tuck jumps.
Push-pull power is the ability to move something with force. It is an essential skill for swimmers and basketball players. High pulls and squat throws help athletes develop this skill.
Rotational power is a key part of many sports, including sprinting and golfing. Rotational slams and lunging rotating passes help develop this skill.
Change of direction is crucial to ice skaters, soccer players, and football players. Useful exercises are box jumps, tuck jumps, and slalom hops.
Research shows that the correct use of plyometrics results in improved speed, strength, and endurance. It can also help to condition individuals to prevent injuries. Plyometrics builds on the elasticity of the muscles and strengthens the muscle fibers and tendons. It helps to train the neuromuscular system by strengthening the communications between the muscles and brain. This helps individuals develop explosive power and increases their ability to run, jump, hit, and move with power.
Its success has made plyometrics an integral part of college athletic training programs, professional training programs, and specialty training programs, such as that for Navy SEALs. Plyometrics has also moved beyond these special training programs to become a part of mainstream exercise and fitness programs. It is incorporated in many high-intensity interval-training programs, such as CrossFit.
Because of the high risk of jumping activities, which put great stress on the joints, fitness coaches and exercise physiologists recommend that individuals only perform plyometrics under supervision and with correct training. Workouts should be limited to twice per week, even for advanced exercisers, to allow the muscles time to recover.
Plyometrics is not for everyone. Older persons and those with osteoarthritis are more susceptible to joint damage and should avoid this type of exercise.
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